On the evening of April 9, 1865, hours after Lee’s surrender to Grant, the 11th Wisconsin made its final charge of the war. They captured over 300 prisoners, numerous guns, ammunitions, and horses. They lost 61 men, 15 of them killed. The battle at Fort Blakely, Ala., was the last significant ground action of the Civil War.
The following is what I think is a very powerful sermon given by George Wells of the 11th Wisconsin regiment, not long after the fight. As he mentions Lincoln’s death, this sermon most likely took place sometime between the 16th and 23rd of April, 1865:
Service as performed by Rev. George Wells following the victory at Fort Blakely and the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s surrender.
Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory.
War is a terrible calamity. Its scenes of strife and carnage, its destruction of life and ruin of domestic peace, its desolation and blighting influences both national, social and personal, all have a tendency to make it truly terrible; especially as it is of constant occurance for if one nation enjoys the sweets of peace others are submerged in all the evils of war. If the lava of war subsides in part of the globe it burst forth with renewed power in another. And if there are no external foes to face internal enemies arise and plunge a nation into all the terrors of that worst of all evils—civil war. Alas that our own beloved country should know, from sad experience the truth of these remarks.
For over eighty years unparalleled prosperity attended these United States in their triumphed progress toward the zenith of power and greatness. External foes gave them but little trouble, and had they remained true to themselves no power on earth could have severed the tie that bound together thirty-four great states in a mighty confederation. But dissatisfaction from within displayed itself. Internal discentions arose. A faction of fanatics made fanatical by their blind devotion to and superstitious reverence for the institution of slavery, threatened to dissolve the union of states and establish a “Southern Confederacy.” While threatenings were all the great mass Northeren freeman sat at ease regardless of threats they had little idea would be put into execution. But deceived by a supposed cowardice at the North, and anticipating a division in the ranks of the true and loyal, as well as foreign recognition, they startled the world by passing ordinances of secession, attacking the garrison at Fort Sumpter, and trashing the “Stars and Stripes” in the dust.
What was the duty of the government at the crisis? To allow secession would destroy our nationality and rob the world of a mighty commonwealth. Therefore we could not in honor recognize for a moment a doctrine so destructive to the country we hold so dear. What was there duty in this hour of trial? To await further acts of hostility? Had we not patiently endured contumely and result tall forbearance ceased to be a virtue, and when the emblem of our rights and liberties was smitten, was it honorable? Was it right? To wait till the foe had marshalled his hosts for renewed attacks[?] The flag of the free having been insulted as men, patriots, and Christians it was our duty to sustain the honor of the flag; yes and preserve our own honor for the two are intimately connected. At Sumpter the gauntlet was thrown down, and it was our duty to take it up, to accept the battle and leave the results with the God of battles. This is the condition of things on the surface. Underneath lay a far more glorious idea than avenging an insult offered the “Star Spangled Banner.” Principles were involved. There was them to begin a grand struggle between truth and error. Right and wrong were to meet face to face, and the great battle between glorious heavenly liberty, and hell born, hell bound slavery was to be fought. As to the final results who could doubt but freedom would be triumphant. But it has no always appeared so, for in the struggle we have not been uniformly successful. The history of the war, to the commencement of the present year, has been one of lights and shades, of victory and defeat. The year 1861 gave us victories, but defeats counterbalanced their influence. In 1862 we were successful in many hard fought battles, but their good effects were lost through the influence of disaster. Through 1863 the success of the Union armies were numerous and important, but two severe reverses tarnished their glory, and partially destroyed their happy results. 1864 is memorable for its successes, and will pass in the record of ages as productive of the greatest military achievement of modern times, but still this year us not entirely clear of failures. But through the first four years show alternate victory and defeat. Yet this year presents a record of uniform success. Fort Fisher, Wilmington, Charleston, Columbus, Goldsbourgh, Selma, Mountgerney, Macon, Petersburg, Richmond, Spanish Fort and Blakeley, all testify to the success of the Union arms. Finally the surrender of Lee and Johnson, with the probability that all rebels have ground their arms, assure us victory complete is ours, that the hitherto defiant traitor is beneath our feet, and liberty remains untarnished fair as the sun, clear as the moon and more terrible than an army with banners to slavery propagandists.
But we must speak particularly of the victories of Spanish Fort and Blakeley. As to the former to others belong the glory of its capture, but when we speak of Blakeley the Eleventh are brought to a scene in their history that will never be forgotten. I was not there. Would to God I had been, if not to share the danger, to participate in your feelings of triumph, and to have the mournful pleasure of giving religious rites to those whom no sound can awake to glory again. But no matter the mighty work was done, and you took a conspicuous part in its accomplishment. And, truly while memory retains its seat you will have vivid impressions of that impressive scene. You will never forget the command “Fall in Eleventh” given by your gallant and fearless leader—Major Miller, nor the memorable rifle pits where you heard from the same unfaltering voice, the orders
“Forward Skirmishers” “Forward Eleventh.” Will never forget the long space over which you ran with almost breathless haste, the fearce storm of shot and shell that greeted your approach to the enemy’s works, and the three lines of abattis [?] that obstructed your passage. You will never forget the tripwire, the desperate leap upon the parapet, the demand to surrender, and the willingness manifested by the foe to obey when they were in your power. Oh! And you’ll never forget the placid countenances of your brave comrades who lay still in death, and the terrible sufferings of those noble boys who claimed your assistance and sympathy when the glorious work was done. Friends it must have been a sublime scene, but it is shorn in its glory in the fact that there are connected with it. Wounded limbs, broken hearts, and lifeless bodies. Your victory was complete. The part of the enemy’s works approportioned to you for capture yielded to your resistless charge, and many prisoners with much munition of war fell into your hands. The whole line being successful Blakeley succumbed, and the glorious “Stars and Stripes” superceded the odious rag of secession.
The victories of Spanish Fort and Blakeley that resulted in the evacuation of Mobile are certainly among the most brilliant achievements of the war, and General Canby does well to acknowledge deserved gratitude by thanking his victorious army for displaying so much skill and valor. But he desires us to take into consideration the God of all the earths, and render him thanks for giving us the victory. Now our friends at home have held a day of joy and thanksgiving for all out victories; let us therefore while remembering Spanish Fort and Blakeley take into account the universal success of our nation’s army, and return devout thanks to almighty God for the great prosperity attending our glorious cause.
Too many people leave the great Author of all events out of the question as many did General Grant in the glorious campaigns of last fall and winter. Because our Lieut. General was “One still man amidst a blatant land” making little noise, and using others to assist in accomplishing his designs, he was left out in the cold and all the applaudits given to others. But subsequent events show these fickle hero worshipers that the immortal Grant was the maker and mover of the wise means that have resulted in such glorious ends. Go with the God whom we adore. Though men in their willfulness ignore his providence in our national affairs, yet his hand controls events, and though silent and unseen, his purposes have been ripening for our good and the nation’s welfare.
I would award the mead if praise to President Lincoln for his honest faithfulness, and to the able Generals who have led our armies from conquring to conquer. I give due credit to the brave soldiers who have fought a good fight and recognize the earnest determination of a patriotic and noble people to sustain so great a war, and yet with a glowing soul. I endorse the sentiment of our text—Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory.
But why give thanks to God?
1st because he gave us for a President a good man, devoted Christian, wise, statesman, and if an honest man is the noblest work of God, Abraham Lincoln was that noble work, and I do not think I disgrace the “Father of his Country” by placing him by his side, one the maker and other the regenerator of his country. “Honest old Abe” was preeminently the man for the times, and he is to be regarded as an unspeakable gift of God.
2nd because he gave us Generals whose military skill and determined bravery have achieved such great victory. We may with propriety consider our cause honored with the services of the greatest military heroes of the present age. 3rd because we raised up strong armies and willing hearts ti fight our battles. It makes a magnificent sight so many thousands leaving the pursuits of civil life to take up arms in defense of their country’s honor. History records no scene more sublime, and when the recording Angel shall open the book of time it will be seen that many were inspired by a God given spirit of duty as well as by motives of interest and patriotism! 4th because to him we owe thanks for the vast resources so essential to carry on the conflict. An immense amount of treasure has been expanded, and yet we are far from being exhausted, in fact we are just beginning to realizing our greatness in this particular. We can without exhausting our means employ millions more to bring about a successful termination of war.
But how should we manifest our thanks?
To remain content with a mear expression of thanks is unworthy of us, and yet we too frequently remain satisfied with so doing. But God who searched the heart will accept nothing short of heart felt gratitude, and this alone can repay the debt of love we owe. Of what use is it to say “Oh Lord I thank thee” when the life is Godless and the soul full of hatred to the things of God. Gratitude is the memory of the heart and where this feeling is properly exercised towards God it produces remembrance not only of the blessings received, but of what the donar [?] requires of us. God desires fruits of gratitude. A manifestation of our thanks in prayer and holy living.
1st Prayer. To pray is certainly the will of God concerning us, and gratitude will draw the soul into this delightful exercise. Pray therefore that God would still continue and preserve us as a nation. Though the storm of war may cease its ragings, yet there will remain waves of trouble that will require a God to say “peace be still” before we are blist [?] with a perfect calm. The plusical war is fought and know, but the moral conflict continues and God with us can alone give the victory. Pray for those whose hearts are made sad by war’s desolation. The land is full of morning for loved ones who “sleep their last sleep,” and full of sorrow for lost limbs and shattered health. Pray that God would bestow consolation and give the oil of joy for mourning with the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. And whenever the privilege to render assistance and seccur to these noble suffers presents itself show your gratitude by bestowing your favors, and a gracious God will not suffer you to go unrewarded. But in praying do not forget your own need of pardoning mercy, and a regenerated mature. Pray that God would forgive the past, and give you
“A heart in every thought renewed. And full of love devine.”
2nd Holy living. To make our prayers effectual we must lead a holy life, for says Psalmist “If I regard inequity in my heart the Lord will not hear me.” If we are grateful to a friend we show it by corresponding acts, and if we are in earnest in thanking for our success we shall show it not by rebelling against his will, but by keeping his commandments walking in his stature and living to love him. As a nation we have passed through a very firey ordeal, and it ought to purify us as gold is purified by fire. God has chastened us, not for our distruction, but to correct and make us a holy people that we may serve him forever. If we will learn the lesson and obey the teachings of our Almighty Friend our future will be great and glorious beyond our most sanguine expectations, but if we will not serve him we may expect destruction for the nation that will not serve God shall parish. The laws of our country are so constituted that every man wields an influence. You and I my friends have a power, and we can use it to good advantage if we so choose. Then let us show our gratitude and at the same time benefit our country by living a holy life, and exerting a Christian influence around.
Let it be said of the 11th Wisconsin that besides expressions of thanks, they yielded themselves servants to God, and thereby manifested sincere and hearty thanks to God for giving us the victory. Amen.